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GRITTY WOMAN
Richard Hoffer
April 15, 1996
Christy Martin is knocking down stereotypes even as she refuses to champion the cause of women in the ring
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April 15, 1996

Gritty Woman

Christy Martin is knocking down stereotypes even as she refuses to champion the cause of women in the ring

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Well, good luck to all the talk-show folks who expect her to explain the Christy Martin phenomenon. She is not particularly interested in women's boxing in the first place and doesn't intend to spearhead the growth of the sport, or even support it. As far as she can tell, there aren't enough women competing at a high enough level to give the sport credibility. In fact, the pool of talent is so shallow that there aren't enough women fighters to provide sparring partners for her. The Martins feel that if the other women boxers are good enough to spar, Christy is better off using them as opponents instead.

"And all-women cards? I would never fight on one of those," she says. "They seem too much like a...sex thing." Nor is she interested in any larger issues. In her view, a woman's place is mostly in the home, except when she fights, of course. She's proud to do Jim's cooking and cleaning for him (although Jim admits somewhat sheepishly that he does the ironing) and expects soon to quit the game and raise a family. The fact that she's thriving in a male domain does not particularly impress her. "If my house is on fire," she says, "I want Mike Tyson carrying me out, not Christy Martin."

Still, behind this seemingly non-threatening persona must lurk an ambition that would impress the most liberated career woman. Martin got into the sport on a dare, it's true, coming into the game entirely by chance. But to fight the sexual prejudice in boxing takes something more than woman's intuition.

Here's the story: An outstanding small-college basketball player—she starred at Concord College near her hometown of Mullens, W.Va. (where she truly was, as she is billed, a Coal Miner's Daughter)—Martin was goaded by teammates and friends to enter a local Toughwoman contest in 1987, during her freshman year. It was kind of scary because the women were definitely of the manly type, know what we mean, smoking and drinking right up to their bouts. But Martin, despite having never laced up a pair of gloves, used her athleticism and conditioning to defeat three of the women and win $1,000. She won the contest in each of the next two years also. After graduating early with a degree in education, Martin was prepared to leave the whole experience behind as a youthful indiscretion.

But then she got a call in 1991 from Larry Carrier, who was promoting fights in Bristol and was looking for cannon fodder for his woman fighter. Martin thought, What's one more week of indiscretion, and signed on. Not knowing a jab from a hook, she came out of Bristol with a surprising draw. "I only wanted to do this once," she says, "but I guess I'm not a good loser." It was no problem to lure her back for a rematch. When Martin won that bout, Carrier suggested she move to Bristol. She figured she had the rest of her life to teach school, so why not relax, take it easy for a year? She moved, met Jim, didn't get her ribs broken and, as their postfight pecks on the cheek came to be freighted with more and more meaning, married him a year later.

The romance was a whirlwind affair, going against every one of Jim's instincts, and those of some others as well. He was 25 years older than his 23-year-old bride and, well, Christy was his fighter. "I'm old-fashioned, I admit it," he says. "But some things you just can't stop."

Christy's career took more work. Everybody Jim called for a booking laughed at him. "So, I'd tell the promoter," he says," 'If you want my man fighter, you got to take my woman fighter.' " Even at that, Christy sometimes had to fight for no purse.

As much as she improved, she was going nowhere. Finally the Martins, who by 1993 were living in Orlando, visited King when he was promoting a fighting card in Fort Lauderdale. Jim urged Christy to show the promoter a few moves, King emitted his trademark "heh-heh-hehs" and, for reasons that nobody really understands to this day, signed her to a four-year promotional contract. It was probably reflex on King's part: He likes to have everybody under contract. Also, he can't resist a story angle, and Martin had three—the Coal Miner's Daughter who fights in pink trunks and sleeps with her cornerman.

But once he had signed her, King wasn't sure what to do with her. The first undercard King put her on, in Las Vegas in 1994, made him noticeably nervous. He didn't dare attend the bout himself, fearing it would blow up in his face. But after that first-round KO was behind them all, Martin became a fixture on all his big shows, because she performs well in the ring and at press conferences. Shy by nature, Martin somehow musters King-like bravado for those signature self-indulgence sessions he likes to put on for the media. While promoting the undercard for the Tyson-Buster Mathis Jr. fight last December, she caused some of the sleepy millionaire fighters who shared the dais to pick their heads up and blink in disbelief when she said, "I'll open the show, and Mike will close it." Even Tyson was seen to smile.

Those in the boxing community have been more supportive of Martin than those outside. And not just the ring-card girls who ask for her autograph. When curmudgeonly 85-year-old Johnny Tocco watched her work out at his formerly men-only gym in Las Vegas, he admitted, "It doesn't get any better than that." Anybody who knows how hard it is to become a good boxer has been impressed with the level of Martin's skill and her determination.

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